I usually feel a bit weird reviewing romantic comedies. I don't know what it is... Perhaps it is society's established bias that affects me, that guys aren't guys if they publicly display a liking to rom coms. To be fair, the average rom com is a piece of generic trash. We all know the stereotypes: guy meets girl; they connect, flirt, and bond; a complication occurs that breaks them apart; then they get together in the end. Part of why I loved the movies (500) Days of Summer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Easy A was because they broke those expectations. Does The Last Kiss prove up to the task of matching these favorites of mine? Does it escape the bland mold of most romantic comedies?
The Last Kiss is all about relationships and commitment to them. In addition, it is about growing up and becoming an adult. The story primarily follows Michael (Zach Braff) and Jenna, his picture-perfect girlfriend in a picture-perfect relationship. Everyone seems envious of him. She seems ideal. But he can't help but feel worried and scared. He isn't sure if he's ready to commit to marriage and a baby. In essence, he questions whether there is something better out there, even if he can't define what exactly it is. A big aspect of the film is trying to assess whether he is justified in having second thoughts. Everyone has them and everyone wonders what will happen before they dedicate themselves to any sort of commitment. But Michael also risks stepping over the line by befriending Kim, a girl outside of his circle of friends who is clearly interested in him. Through his ambiguous relationship and confiding with Kim, we explore Michael's doubts and what goes through peoples' heads when they are afraid of commitment.
This theme is also explored through the marriage between Jenna's parents. Her parents have been married a long time, and it is clear that the marriage has deep issues. Her father seems to take it for granted and often seems to barely tolerate his wife. On the flip side, her mother yearns to be wanted and loved much like her daughter is loved by Michael. Throughout the film, we watch the marriage between her parents undergo strife just as Michael and Jenny's relationship is severely shaken. This provides especial poignancy at the end as the mother talks to the daughter and the father to Michael. We can see what they have learned, the mistakes they have made, and we watch as they try to convey that knowledge to those they love who are moving into long-term relationships of their own.
One of the Boys
As if this weren't enough, The Last Kiss explores the relationships and dating habits of all the supporting characters; Michael's guy friends. One of them seeks to overcome his unhealthy attachment to the woman who dumped him; through him we see how the obsession that comes with love can be a double-edged sword. Another is in a marriage with a woman who can be emotionally abusive. What keeps them together is their daughter. Through him is weighed the tricky question of at what point is enough enough? Does his love for his daughter and wife outweigh the stress she puts him through? Finally, we have the free spirit guy who sleeps around and appears to generally have a fantastic time. He is confronted with the fact that, just maybe, he should consider maturing and seeking relationships that are more substantial than just the merely physical.
It is abundantly clear that there is a ton going on in this movie, and it does have a lot to say about relationships, commitment, and marriage. And it treats these subjects fairly seriously. Despite the laughs within, it makes one even wonder if this qualifies as a romantic comedy at all. Perhaps the better term is... dramedy? Though that one makes me wince.
I did find myself enjoying The Last Kiss a lot, despite my hesitance in watching it and risking exposure to another potential failure. It turned out to be a surprisingly thought provoking movie about maturity in relationships and wanderlust. Its ending is also treated realistically. I won't call it an unhappy ending, but there certainly isn't any sweeping of the girl into the guy's arms and driving off into the glorious sunset. For any of the characters. But yet I came away satisfied and resolved. And that is the best thing such a “dramedy” could have offered me.